It's been a while since I've taken a look at any of Canon's A-series cameras. What with the popular and fashionable IXUS range, the very successful range of digital SLRs, the wonders of the S5 IS super-zoom and the semi-pro PowerShot G9, not to mention the new SX100 IS, the poor old A-series has been a bit overlooked of late. In fact the last A-series camera I reviewed was the excellent A570 IS, back in June. Naturally things have moved on a bit since then, and included in Canon's Autumn collection was the PowerShot A720 IS, an 8-megapixel, 6x zoom camera with optical image stabilisation, an optical viewfinder, 2.5-in wide-view monitor and a range of manual exposure options. It's sold exclusively through the Jessops chain here in the UK, but is available from a wider range of sources elsewhere in the world.
Jessops is currently selling the A720 IS for £179.99, which is perhaps a little more expensive than I would have expected, but then like most of the A-series cameras it doesn't really have a lot of competition. If you're looking for a mid-sized compact with a decent zoom range, a high quality lens and a good range of features including manual exposure, then you're going to end up with either a Canon A-series, one of Fujifilm's S-series cameras or possibly a Samsung NV7. There really aren't any other serious alternatives. Even given that choice it's hard to compare he A720 IS with anything else on the market apart from another Canon. The A720 IS is currently the second-from-top model in the A series. After this it's the 12-megapixel A650 IS (which has been delayed by technical problems), the SX100 IS, and then you're into the S and G models, which are a lot more expensive. From that perspective the A720 IS looks like pretty good value for money.
The overall style of the A720 IS is very similar to most of the other models in the range. The body is made from plastic, but the build quality is up to Canon's usual high standard. It does emit a few creaks when given a good squeeze and there are a few areas on the body that do flex slightly, but it feels reasonably robust, and the fit and finish of the controls and other external features is very good. The battery/card hatch has a metal hinge, and the rubber-like plug covering the access ports on the left of the body fits securely. The tripod bush is plastic, and is located right at the far end of the base plate, which could cause a few problems, but at least it means you can open the hatch when the camera is fitted to a tripod. The camera is somewhat larger than most pocket compacts, measuring 97.3 x 67.0 x 41.9 mm, and weighs around 250g including the pair of AA batteries that supply it with power, so it'll take up a lot of room in your pocket.